The Natural and Moral Relationships of the Holy Trinity

We have considered the eternal relationship by nature among the three equal persons in the Godhead, a relationship that is forever indissoluble, in no way altered or changed. This mystical relationship is defined with the use of the terms to beget, to be begotten, and to proceed.

Thus, the relationship of the Father with the Son is defined by the term to beget, because God the Father, as the effective or procreative cause, begets of His own essence an essence like Himself, an equal, identical icon of Himself, the very impress of His substance (hypostasis). As St. Paul, the great teacher of the Gentiles, taught in his theological exposition, the Son is the reflection of the Father’s glory and the stamp of His nature and personality, upholding the universe by His word of power. For He, after making purification for our sins, took His seat at the right hand of the majesty on high, having become as superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is so very different from their name (Hebrews 1:3,4).

The relationship of the Son with the Father is defined by the phrase to be begotten, because the Son is begotten, an offspring, and He is begotten of the Father not in time, but eternally and outside time altogether. He is perfection of perfection, God of God, light of light, perfect essence from perfect essence. He is of the same essence as the Father by whom all things came into being, according to the teaching of Holy Scripture as laid down in the Creed by the council of Nicaea.

The relationship of the Father with the Holy Spirit is defined by the phrase to proceed, because the Father is the author not only of the eternal generation of the Son, but also of the eternal projection and procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the eternal effective cause of two other existences equal to Himself and eternally derived from Him, the one by generation, the other by procession – by two completely different methods that are known thoroughly and completely only to God.

Consequently, generation and projection are two eternal activities of the Father, two eternal relationships by nature between Him and two other equally divine persons. For the Father is the source without a source, and the cause without a cause, of the eternally begotten Son and the eternally proceeding Holy Spirit.

The relationship by nature of the Spirit with the Father is defined by the term procession, because the Spirit, according to the unerring witness of Christ, proceeds eternally from the Father alone, and rests eternally on the Son. Through the Son He also is sent in time into the world, that He may strengthen and confirm the house of God, His Church, which the Son of God incarnate founded by His precious Blood. The Spirit, related to the Father by His eternal projection or procession from Him, is concurrently related to the Son through His eternal resting upon Him. This relationship of the Spirit with the Son may be defined by the phrase, “the eternal resting of the Spirit on the Son.”

However, the relationship of the Son with the Spirit who rests forever on the Son, may be defined by the phrases: “the Son’s eternal possession of the Spirit” – that Spirit who proceeds from the Father, and “His sending of the Spirit in time into the world” for the strengthening and confirming of His Church. Therefore, it is exactly as He said: “. . . For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). And again, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me . . .” (John 15:26).

Let us note that the Spirit who rests eternally on the Son is not thereby separated from the Father, but is totally in both the Father and the Son simultaneously. In the same way, the Son, too, is in the Father of whom He is begotten, and in the Spirit as well. It remains to make this relationship by nature as intelligible as possible by means of analogous examples from nature.

To make the theological truth of the Holy Trinity as here set forth as intelligible as possible to those who cannot understand theological truths fully because of their metaphysical element, we must resort to parallels in which as in a mirror, we may see the reflection of the fundamental theological truth about the Holy Trinity. Nature is rich in examples which bear witness to the unity in trinity of the Godhead.

We will select the most conclusive of them to aid the understanding of the dogmatic truth about God. If we take a close look at nature in general and observe what is there, we shall be astonished at the sight of the many, countless beings that surround us, yet they comprise a universe that is one in essence.

Before our very eyes there appears firstly the huge universe, so beautiful, so good, so wonderful – a universe which fills us with amazement when we contemplate it with a thoughtful, reflective eye. The universe is both amazing and large compared with the earth on which we dwell. But if we turn our glance toward the sky and see the host of heavenly worlds shining on us with a wonderful, great light, we are still more amazed, still more filled with wonder at the revelation of nature and of such grandeur unfolded before our finite eyes. We are filled with wonder at the earth on which we dwell, but still more are we amazed at the heavens, because in the heavens there exists a brilliant splendor.

We seek to embrace in a single concept all these marvelous worlds revealed around us, and to label them under one single name. We desire to gather together this countless multitude of stars, the whole universe, under a collective description and distinguish it from its maker and creator, from the eternal, ever-living God.

He is the God whom we worship in our heart and in our soul. He is the God whom we love with perfect love. He is the God with whom we can live and associate freely and unhesitatingly, because He is good, and yet He is one whom we must fear, because He is righteous. Him we hold in embrace as the Son does His Father, with joy. To Him we open our heart freely to confess our sin. Him we receive as often as He knocks at the door of our heart and says, “Open, for it is time for me to come into your heart and become your God, and for you to become my son.”

Therefore, we name the sum total of all that exists around us, the earth and the stars, world and matter. In doing this, we distinguish them from the maker and creator who is an eternal, everlasting Spirit, as Christ said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

The universe is the sum total of beings set in order and functioning according to fixed rules. But these countless beings, which stir the admiration of the beholder so forcibly, have a form and a kind in addition to their existence and being. They have potentialities. Consequently, these beings in the universe exist in essence of matter, which is one; but they exist also with a form, with a kind that distinguishes each of them from any other. They exist with relationships, bonds, and faculties whereby they are maintained in their existence and in their kind. If we consider both the three orders of beings[1] and the three realms of nature – the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, and the animal kingdom – the inorganic and the organic, we shall find in them only existence, their kind and form, and the power which may be discerned between the existence and the form, which also is called nature.

Let us take an example or two. Gold, which belongs to the mineral kingdom, in essence to the class of inorganic matter, is something that exists. Gold has being and the substance (hypostasis) of gold. It has the nature of gold which only gold possesses and by which it is distinguished from lead, silver, tin, and other similar metals, and from what is living and from what is inorganic.

A plant belongs to the order of organic matter, to the realm of plants. It has existence; it has being and the substance (hypostasis) of a plant. It possesses a nature by which it is distinguished from gold and from animals. It has power, too, by which the nature of gold, the nature of plant life, and the substance (hypostasis) and being of animal life are maintained and kept in their own class.

An animal belongs to the order of organic matter. An animal is something which exists and possesses the being and the nature of an animal. By this it is distinguished from both plant life and from man. It also possesses a power between its substance (hypostasis) and its nature, which joins and unites a single nature in a single substance (hypostasis).

If one mounts this scale of beings from the most imperfect particle of matter on up to the most perfect being in creation, man, he will discover these components in the composition of every being. Without them, a being cannot be given a name or classification, or even exist.

Consequently, substance (hypostasis), nature, and a relationship between the substance (hypostasis) and the nature, are the components of each being and of the whole universe taken in its entirety. Whether we consider the entire universe as one essence, or as many separate beings, we will examine it in relation to three aspects of its nature, from the point of view of its:

  1. Being and substance (hypostasis);
  2. Nature and attributes;
  3. Relationship and strength.

The existence and substance (hypostasis) of the universe are one thing, and its nature and kind are another; and different too are the power and relationship which unite the kind with the substance (hypostasis). Open the book of nature and the textbook of beings. We stand in amazement and awe before its magnitude. Perusing it, we marvel even more, for with understanding comes even greater admiration and appreciation. What is it that we discover therein?

Consider the three chapters into which the book is divided. The first chapter concerns the existence and substance (hypostasis) of beings; the second concerns their nature and kind, and how the existence of each is determined; and the final chapter concerns the relationship and power by which their nature is united with their substance (hypostasis). It should be noted that these three chapters comprise only one book, not three. Clearly, it is a case of three in one and one in three.

Generally speaking, the existence and substance (hypostasis) are considered most important, the nature of the being is considered of secondary importance, and the power is considered as a bond between the two. Could the substances (hypostases) of beings which are invisible to the naked eye but intelligible to the mind as truly existing, ever be known if the nature of beings did not exist to provide information regarding them?

Consequently, we are enabled to state that the nature and kind of every being are its icon, that they are its distinctive mark, and that they result from the substance (hypostasis) of the being. How is the nature of the being the result of them? If the substance (hypostasis) of a being did not exist, would the nature of the being exist? No, it would not; therefore, the nature comes into existence after the substance (hypostasis), just as the icon appears after its prototype, whose character it reflects, came into being.

Thus, as an icon does not come into being without a prototype, so also the nature of a being does not exist without the substance (hypostasis) of the being. And just as the icon portrays the person whose picture it is, so also the nature of a being resembles the substance (hypostasis) of the being, for it presents a faithful reproduction of it.

Now there is the question of the power which binds the nature to the substance (hypostasis) of a being, for it is impossible for the nature to be related to the substance (hypostasis) of a being without power. Consequently, in every being there must exist substance (hypostasis), nature, and power.

Because the beings are finite, their substances (hypostases), natures, and powers also are finite. Nonetheless, they reflect the infinite essence of God, and manifest it too, for God, as infinite essence, possesses infinite being, infinite nature, and infinite power. The infinite and finite under discussion may be illustrated diagrammatically:

We also have a mirror of God – creation and the universe, and each separate being, which possess:

The universe, through which as a mirror we dimly perceive God, has existence, and the existence of finite essences and beings is something hypostatic which occurs from eternal being. In a different manner, the nature and the power of a being have existence without substance (hypostasis) behind them. They are phenomena on the periphery of substance (hypostasis) but are not beings on their own. Antithetically, the infinite essence of God, as we have shown, has hypostatic being, kind, and its own power.

The Father is the primary substance (hypostasis), the fountain of all being. The Son is the second substance (hypostasis), and is the substantial (hypostatic) icon or image of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the third substance (hypostasis), and is the relationship of love and unity between the Father and the Son, on behalf of both the Father and the Son. Therefore, just as each being in the world has three components in its existence, and is perfect concerning its kind and the order in which it is placed, so too, the most perfect essence of God has three beings, three substances (hypostases), and three persons – all perfect and all held in equal honour.

This illustration, which in other respects is both a cosmological and an ontological exposition of the ineffable Holy Trinity, is worthy of more serious consideration than any other. It casts light upon this great subject, and assists the instructed and uninstructed, the great and small, the educated and uneducated, to comprehend further the sublime and all – crucial truth of the blessed Trinity. Other examples also may be utilized to illustrate the truth of the Holy Trinity.

[1] The angelic order (angels), the natural order (minerals, plants, and animals), and the moral order (mankind).

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